Vidi turbam magnam, quam dinumerare nemo poterat, ex omnibus gentibus, et tribubus, et populis, et linguis : stantes ante thronum, et in conspectu Agni, amicti stolis albis, et palmae in manibus eorum : I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
Google 144,000. Go on, I’ll wait. There’s so much out there! Some folks think that God’s only going to let 144,000 folks into heaven as if there was only that much room. Others think of it as a symbolic number indicating – again – the limited access of the few saved folks. Still others, in to which camp I used to fall, think of it as an exact number of Jews who will convert just before the 2nd Coming and try to evangelize the world. Hal Lindsey had me convinced of this. Don’t get me started on all that is wrong with the idea.
Yet if these 144,000 are evangelists – or a symbol of the function of Evangelists (which I think it is) then the important part is in the next set of verses: for the Evangelists bring in a “great multitude which no one could count”. That’s not a “limited heaven”: It’s infinity – and beyond!
Today’s feast is a mark of the Unity, the Catholicity of the Church: for we, the Evangelizing servants of God on the earth are united with the great multitude which no one can number, in heaven. This happens at every Mass as we gather around the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: You might not be able to see them with your physical eyes but we are all here, together, around the Altar! When you come forward to receive the Body of Christ, angels are kneeling in awe, your patron saints, and thousands of others whom you do not know – but who know you intimately – are standing with you, praying for you and cheering you on. When the priest says, “The Body of Christ!” and places the host on your tongue, all of heaven responds with a gloriously victorious
Amen! Benedictio, et claritas, et sapientia, et gratiarum actio, honor, et virtus, et fortitudo Deo nostro in saecula saeculorum! Amen! Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
The rafters thunder! The earth quakes! A mortal receives the bread of life, the chalice of slavation, infinity on our tongue.
On All Saints Day we celebrate what we rarely acknowledge: the vast majority of the Church is invisible but we are ever one in Christ. These are our most intimate friends for while they share in the knowledge of Christ they love us, pray for us, beckon us on; sometimes I think they get behind us and push. They have been in this same world, they know what it means to be poor, to have a job, to be afraid, and to be ill. They know about raising children, about being lone, about being hungry, about being persecuted. They know what it means to be all the thing humans can be – and still, they have pushed through to God. One step at a time, this great multitude which no man can number has gained the Victory offers by the Lamb.
And they long for us to join them. In the Office of Readings for today St Bernard of Clairvaux said:
Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.
Let us not be indifferent! Let us not ignore them! Let us be thankful for their prayers, but let us emulate them as well: for they with us pray for all the souls of the departed. They, with us, pray for the Pope, the Bishops, and our clergy, the living 144,000 we have today. The saints, with us, pray for the peace of the world and the Church. And with us, they pray for the coming of the Great Day when all the Church shall finally be reunited as one in one place before the Throne.
NB: I edit and repost this essay most every year, I know. Archive has this going back to at least 2006, although it says there that I was reposting it again, so, at least 2005? Anyway, it’s still good.
On the Hill of Tara, seat of the High Kings of Ireland, there is a mound with a passage burrowing into its heart. This hill is called the Mound of Hostages. Once a year, as the sun passes the half-way point between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solistice, the sunlight stabs through the passage and illuminates three spirals carved on the wall at the back of the mound. What does that mean? We don’t know. The Celts did not leave us anything in writing and all the written content we have about them was drafted by Christians long after the fact. It does indicate that the half-way point from Autumn to Winter was important for some reason. But it doesn’t tell us why. Although the midway point shifts slightly from year to year and also drifts in time because of the Precession of the Equinox, it’s important to note that currently the halfway point is always around 7 November. A thousand years ago, that would be closer to 1 November, closer to the date we know in the Church as All Saints Day.
Is there a connection between the celebration of the one, a pagan holiday and the other, a Christian liturgical feast? Some moderns – both Christian and Pagan – would like to think so.
A good deal of the modern evangelical, fundamentalist, and Eastern Orthodox (mostly-convert) complaints about Halloween are just badly disguised ultra-Protestant, Anti-Roman Catholicism. In some cases (Jack Chick comes to mind) it’s not very thinly disguised at all. Other sects often succumb to such uber-frummery too. When I was first Chrismated as Orthodox my only reply was “it’s not my holiday”. In this I was following my priest – Fr J. We were all forgetting that the Orthodox Western Rite folks all celebrate All Saints Day with the Christian West; so, in fact, some Orthodox do celebrate All Hallows’ Eve. So also do Roman Catholics, Anglicans and some (most?) Lutherans. In other words, a majority of Christians around the world have this day on their liturgical calendar. Did they all steal it from the Pagans?
It is my assertion that the celebration of All Hallows eve as such is Christian; that is was never Pagan. So, how do we get here? It starts with a Greek Christian far removed from the Irish.
The East St John Chrysostom (4th Century) set a celebration in memory of all the “other” saints on the Sunday after Pentecost. Since he did not have universal jurisdiction, this holiday would have, of course, only applied to those dioceses and parishes under his patriarchate. This celebration seemed like a good idea and it spread to various churches in the East and the West.
The West In AD 609 or 610, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the ancient Roman Pantheon as a Christian Church. The new name was St Mary and All Martyrs and the anniversary of the consecration, 13 May, was a feast celebrated in all the western Church. It still is, in fact. This was the beginning of All Saints’ Day in the West.
About 100 years later another Pope, Gregory III, dedicated another All Saints’ chapel – this one in St Peter’s – on 1 November and began to commemorate the feast on that day. The next Pope Gregory made that feast (on 1 November) of universal practice.
The Roman Martyrology, still read daily in monastic orders, tells the story this way:
Festívitas ómnium Sanctórum, quam in honórem beátæ Dei Genitrícis Vírginis Maríæ et sanctórum Mártyrum Bonifátius Papa Quartus, cum templum Pántheon tértio Idus Maji dedicásset, célebrem et generálem instítuit agi quotánnis in urbe Roma. Sed Gregórius item Quartus póstmodum decrévit, eándem festivitátem, quæ váriis modis jam in divérsis Ecclésiis celebrabátur, in honórem ómnium Sanctórum solémniter hac die ab univérsa Ecclésia perpétuo observári.
The Festival of All Saints, which Pope Boniface IV, after the dedication of the Pantheon, ordained to be kept generally and solemnly every year on the 13th of May, in the city of Rome, in honour of the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and of the holy martyrs. It was afterwards decreed by Gregory IV that this feast, which was then celebrated in many dioceses, but at different times, should be on this day kept by the whole Church in honour of all the saints.
All of these Christian dates are very important because these dates mean the festival of All Saints (and thus the Vigil the night before) is a feast of the pre-Schism Patriarchate of Rome. 31 October/1 November is not a Pagan festival: it is a traditional celebration of the unified, Roman and Orthodox Church – if you insist on limiting that title to western events before the 11th century. It’s important to note two things: (a) this new feast in the West begins after the coming of St Augustine to Canterbury in 587 (when the Roman Church first met Samhain); and (b) it doesn’t begin on 1 November. These are important points because erroneously claim that Augustine baptized a pagan feast day he found in England and that it came back to Rome. Nope. Sorry.
In point of fact, Augustine met Christians already present in England. Where did they come from? From Ireland. Patrick had converted the Irish 100 years before Augustine ever got around to visiting the area. The Celtic Church knew nothing of All Saints Day – it hadn’t been invented yet. And the Catholics of Ireland had no need to have a pagan feast day baptized for their conversion: they were already Catholics. Augustine rather famously did baptize a lot of local pagan shrines: but it was to win converts from the Angles and the Saxons – not the Celts.
The Roman Church was commemorating the consecration of an important religious shrine. The Western Calendar is actually has several feast days like that: the celebration of a church dedicated to X becomes a feast day of X-itself. The anniversary of the consecration of the holiest church in Jerusalem becomes Holy Cross Day. The anniversary of the consecration of a church dedicated to St Michael becomes Michaelmas. The anniversary of the consecration of a church dedicated to All the Saints becomes All Saints Day.
The Pagans We note that Pagan holidays were not celebrated on fixed calendars. Not every Pagan European culture had a festival at this point in the year – the late fall or beginning point of winter. Pre-Christian Rome did not have a festival at this point of the year at all, although we’ve cited the Hill of Tara – which was outside of the Empire. Ireland had that passage grave but we cross a line if we can assume – from such scanty evidence – that the entire island of Eire was on the same cultural calendar.
The bards, writing in the Christian era, report the feast between Autumn and Winter was celebrated on the Hill of Tara with the Ard Rí – the High King. Bonfires were lit that night. We don’t know that the Irish even had anything to say about the dead on this night. Anthropologically it would make sense for this festival to be a harvest festival and it might be that the dead might be invoked or appeased at harvest time… but that’s it. Since the ancient religions did not write stuff down, we have no way of knowing from Pagan sources in situ if the Festival of Tara was anything to do specifically with the dead or the “Veil between the worlds” getting thin. We don’t even know it was “New Year” for them – we may have made that up too.
We can say “might” and “maybe” all we want. Does the passage grave indicate the timing of the Feast of Tara? Does it validate the bardic story at all? We don’t know, although it’s a good guess. It does show that the astronomical point – not a calendar date, per se – was marked at Tara. Ditto the other bits of pagan Ireland and England: New Grange marks the winter solstice, not 21 December. Stonehenge marks the Summer Solstice (among other events). The Pagans in the only part of Europe not conquered by Rome didn’t use the Roman Calendar – and so wouldn’t have known what 31 October was – or 1 November.
31 October as Celtic Santeria. Modern Neopagans take up this theme – using American Christian customs! – when they say “Christians stole our holiday”. In fact, 1 November was never their holiday – it was, however, the closest Christian party to their own historical party at 15 Degrees Scorpio. So they moved their party a week or so over and stopped counting days by small spirals carved on walls and tried this new Roman invention – the Fixed Calendar. They did this so as not to be continually persecuted by the Christians – they wanted to blend in. I’m clear on that – and Christians need to be honest about our persecution of other religions throughout our history.
The Celtic tribes covered up their pagan traditions with a Catholic overlay. But the Church didn’t do that, as such: the Pagans pretended to be Catholics to blend in. It was not the Church adopting Pagan Customs. We see the same blending-in in Yoruban cultures where their Afro-Caribbean and South American cultures adopt Catholicism as a cover for their African Gods. A statue of St Martin de Porres is worshiped as an image of the Yoruban deity, Elegba. Does this mean that St Martin was stolen from the Yoruban peoples? No: it means the Yoruban people, to cover up and yet maintain their ancient faith, use Catholic symbols. Any priest would see only a statue of a very holy Dominican Tertiary. Likewise, we should more honestly say the ancient Pagans, to avoid persecution by the Church, stole a Christian Holiday.
Like other pagan festivals some of this stuff may have carried over: the “bonfire holidays” in England are mostly pagan festivals that were transferred to Christian days. This is especially clear on St John’s day in the Summer when they light the midsummer bonfires. This tradition of moving traditions to the biggest party continued through history: in England, now, the Mid-Autumn bonfires are not lit on Halloween, but rather on Guy Fawkes Night (Nov 5) which is coincidentally much closer to 15 Degrees Scorpio.
Bad Victorian Mythology Costumes? Trick or Treat? Pumpkins? Mostly bad Victorian-era Scholarship – and that mostly American, not European at all. Like us moderns, the Americans of the Victorian era had a desire for things that “feel ancient” and, like us, they tended to make stuff up when they didn’t know the answer. Let’s just call it “ancient tradition”. Americans feel guilty sometimes that most countries have indoor plumbing older than our culture.
Our American custom was, until recently, to becostume ourselves and trick-or-treat on Thanksgiving! In fact, this may go back to a Roman Catholic custom on St Martin’s day, 11 November, which is a European Thanksgiving feast. It was also the custom in some places to dress in costumes on St Martins day. Some even have children going door to door on this day. Coincidentally, this was also – for a few hundred years – the Julian Calendar Date for 31 October. So, make of that what you will.
It is this odd American Thanksgiving custom which was moved to American Halloween in the early 20th Century and, as things happen it is the “American Style” Halloween that is only now being imported into Europe. It’s our American customs, superimposed on All Hallows Eve that we now deck out as “ancient” and then call pagan. So follow this: Prot Americans adopt Catholic Customs from St Martin’s Day, move them to Thanksgiving (which was, really, a bit too late in the year to go trick or treating); then we culturally move them to a Catholic Holiday, commercialize them, market them to the rest of the world and then – to validate it – claim it’s not mid-20th Century Marketing, but rather Ancient Celtic Tradition… and poof! we’ve all been duped into spreading the marketing ploy.
Everything else we claim to know about the holiday is from this American Marketing. So we like to blame wearing masks on the ancient Celts. We claim the sweets used to be foods left outside, offered to the Ghosts. The Jack O’Lantern is a candle lit to show the dead how to get back to their homes. All of this is without proof of course – positive or negative. The ancient religions were not literate. They didn’t write it down in guidebooks on How to Be a Druid. Having made up a pretty fun holiday (admit it!) it caught on! Even Europeans now like this idea.
In short: the Church had no need for a Pagan Holiday, but there was a counter-need.
The Aztecs? Because huge parts of America are, largely, encultured by folks from Mexico and further South, it’s worth talking about the Day of the Dead, Dìa de los Muertos. It’s one of my favourite times of the year to switch cultures: it’s practically a public Holiday in San Francisco. We may have no idea at all what the ancient Celts did, but the Day of the Dead is a living, evolving tradition. Some Protestant commentaries are quick to point out that this is Paganism+Catholicism. But it is Catholicism – not paganism – that rules the day. When it is the other way around, it is a stolen holiday (again, stolen by the Neopagans).
The Aztec (Ancient Mexican) Calendar had almost 30 days dedicated to the dead in or around the Gregorian month of August. These were dedicated to the “Little Dead” (children) and the Adult Dead. These were the ghosts of human sacrifices, as well as the ghosts of the beloved dead.
Within a few decades of the Spanish conquest, all the traditions of these festivals had been transferred to the Catholic feasts of All Saints and All Souls. The Church didn’t move them there – nor did she “take over” the Aztec feasts. Instead – as in the case of the Celts and the other pagans – local traditions were, effectively, baptized when they got there. There were no human sacrifices anymore. But people still wanted to commemorate their dead.
For Pagans this was a way to blend in, a half-way ground. Yet these ancient traditions were seen by the Church as way-pointers on the way to Christ who is The Truth and therefore all things true point to him. There is nothing to be afraid of in the truth: nothing at all. And anything that really is True really is Christ.
Now does any of this mean that the modern, Non-Christian silliness that goes on in Schools is really-Christian or even Anti-Christian? No. No more than singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is an act of Christian piety although I know some who would file a lawsuit nonetheless. That said, let’s be honest: most of the secular version of holy days that happen now – from Christmas to Easter to Halloween – are decidedly not Christian and should be avoided. The revelries that happen on this night are lewd, crude and are often designed to mock Christianity. That is Satanic.
But bobbing for apples, trick or treating – or using this day and season to commemorate the dead and the departed are not Satanic at all. In fact, it’s an orthodox and catholic practice that is so evidently healthy that even the pagans took it over: All Saints Day (and the Vigil) and All Souls Day and the whole month of November. Should the kids be allowed to have that fun? Well, that’s up to the parents.
Tomorrow, 25 October, is the Sunday of Christ the King in the Pre-Vatican II Ordo – the “Extraordinary Form” – for the Roman Church and also in the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate, which last also uses the older calendar as well. On the Novos Ordo calendar this feast is the last Sunday before Advent starts, this year that is 22 November. The ROCOR Western Rite folks use the Novos Ordo calendar to calculate this feast, for some reason. ROCOR, of course, calculates the Nativity feast on the Julian Calendar, so their Advent starts much later: their Calendar commemorates Christ the King Sunday on the 6th of December (NS) which is 23 November on the Julian Calendar.
If we (Orthodox, Old Calendar and New, together with the Roman Catholics on both the EF and Novus Ordo) count everything, we might see the time, this year, from 25 October – 6 December (23 November OS) as “Kingdomtide.”
There is no “Christ the King” on the ER calendar and All Saints Sunday is linked with the paschal cycle, usually falling in May or June. But I pray the Eastern Rite folks (Orthodox and ByzCath) will join in this project!
If you are inclined to yell “Ecumenism!” please lay aside, for a moment, all superfluity of snarkiness: I want us to take over the internets with saints.
Christ the King Sunday – proclaiming the Kingship of Christ not only in the next world and “in our lives” but also in this world, now, here – is tied to All Saints Day and All Souls Days in the calendars in order to link, liturgically, the idea of Christ reigning as King of all his people in Heaven, on Earth, and in the Afterlife.
In Secular Culture, Christ is not King and All Saints & All Souls Days are not even a time to remember our dead, but to indulge in horrifics and gore. Screen names in social media are being “spookified” and user icons and avatars are being replaced with skulls, jack-o-lanterns, witches, and worse. It is too easy to hurl labels at this – and perhaps worth doing so – but that’s the not the point of this project:
Let us to take over the internet with saints and proclaim the kingship of Christ!
First off: All Saints Day is not stolen from the pagans. Read this. Let’s reclaim our holiday and our season.
Here’s my suggestions:
Replace all your social media avatars/user icons with an image of your patron saint; failing that, of Christ the King.
Don’t opt for the “spookification” process. Last year I was “Boo! Richardson”. Rather, if possible, put your patron saint there. “William Francis”, “Huw Raphael”, or “Susan Elizabeth”, etc.
When discussing this, tweeting, facebooking, or blogging about it, use the hashtags #ChristusRex and #AllSaints
Please do this from tomorrow to, at least, 2 Nov… but I would think we could do all of Kingdom Tide this way, from now until at least the start of Advent (on whatever calendar you use, ER/WR OC/NC).
Forgive me for the late start. I know we mightn’t get much done. But we’re laying the ground work for next year!